One of the most reliable conceits of human inquiry is the supposition that, at some point, we shall inevitably exhaust all there is to know; every possible form, every possible law to describe the interaction of those forms, and thus finally (excusing the recursive incompleteness of predicting one’s own future predictions) producing a grand, unified theory of everything. At present, that tendency has been most reliably expressed in physics, with the attempt to postulate Elementary Laws of Matter which, assuming everything is ultimately just the interaction of the elementary particles (or strings or waves or things or, whatever, exactly, ‘particle’ is itself an artifact of former physical theories, ahem), will allow us to explain everything constituted by these… elemental things as just the action of these elemental things.
Physics is only one example of this prejudice towards a notion of “knowledge completeness” (which, I note, cannot even be completely [and yes I mean that in the logical sense] defined). The same exact prejudice crops up in “theories of history” such as Fukuyama’s (in the most vulgar interpretation, but to be frank it’s hard to make it much more vulgar than it is actually presented) or Jared Diamond’s. Both presuppose a continuous and upwards ascent towards social forms which shall be simultaneously “freer,” “equaler,” “peacier,” “wealthier,” “liberallier,” so on and so forth for any buzzword which gives the progressive homunculus a boner. The narrative of Progress becomes its own etiology, indeed a full-fledged eschatology which fills that individual need to believe that his actions contribute to something greater than himself; it is the same need which the idea of an afterlife used to fulfill, only now it is displaced by an even more altruistic version in which it is supposed that our children (well, other people’s children, progressive wombs are conspicuously barren) shall inherit a utopia free from conflict, war, prejudice, crime, poverty, whatever else shall be eventually considered an intrinsic vice which condemns the totality of a society lest it devote all available resources to those problems.
This utopian eschatology is such a fixture of the individual Progressive’s weltanschauung that, to adopt the crude propagandistic narrative concerning the conflict between Galileo and the Catholic Church, for want of a particular cosmological model that just seems to fit the religious sense better, any models which deviate from that divinely mandated anthropocentrism shall not only be purposefully overlooked, but any who wish to adopt that dissident model for their inquiries shall be considered heretics liable to be burnt at the stake. All that has changed is, in place of the Catholic Church, you have the ideologically vested interests of the Cathedral which promotes a utopian eschatology. To propose a historical model, particularly one which is but the extension of biological disciplines such as ecology, of human civilization which doesn’t neatly fit that equalicentrism is not only to invite ready refutation by the intellectual-journalistic elite, but professional embarrassment and career-ending scorn. But this is less a point about Progressive ideology (though it is no less important to see this point all the same) and more an illustration of how the prejudice towards “completed” bodies of doctrines skews social bodies away from perpetual disillusionment and nearer an inflexible, rigid orthodoxy.
In complete contrast to this prejudice for exhaustive knowledge, I propose that there would be nothing more disastrous than “completing knowledge.” To find and define an end of knowledge is to find and define the end of civilization. Whatever potential forms there may be in the world, they will be ultimately circumscribed by a limited space with limited potentials for the material therein. Assuming even the rosiest model of human ascent over the mastery of Nature and the entire universe, pressing up against the sheer limits of Nature entails the grandest and most wicked of Malthusian traps. Likewise, discovering that our universe is of a finite nature, with laws which perfectly describe all potential interaction, would probably be the clearest and most decisive proof that we inhabit a mere simulation.
What is a “law of Nature?” Put most accurately, it is a heuristical description of the tendency of some body’s way of acting. That any law is a heuristic, implying that it faces limits and, by extension, conditions under which that law fails to describe the particular body’s action, is at once intuitive and controversial. It is intuitive in the sense that the phenomena we tend to be aware of, and the cycles by which we are able to process the activity thereof, is always finite, and with additional information may need to be further calibrated. Consider Newton’s law of gravitation, which as a heuristic works perfectly well for describing the action of bodies within a reasonably human scale of reference; indeed, the unifying of the action of bodies on earth falling and the action of the sun, moon, and planets by a single description of the relation between motion, velocity, and mass is, until you realize no one had really ever supposed the activities of an apple and the moon might be described by a single law, quite an accomplishment. And, no less that being an accomplishment, the law is, at least if we take it as the attempt to describe the action of all potential gravitational bodies, false. But, as a heuristic subject to limits (which we are now, via Einsteinian physics, able to define), it is extremely useful. It is only at “extremes” (what counts as an extreme depends on your scale of reference, which tends towards the individual human’s) that we find these heuristics break down. To put that another way, if you zoom in or out then, at a sufficient distance, you will find the emergence of unique forms which the law could not have predicted. In other words, the universe exhibits, with respect to our place in the world, forms which are of an irrational nature.
The postulate of an elementary particle is just that, a postulate. It tends to be taken for granted that everything in the world is just the composition of simple forms, which is the fundamental expression of matter and below which no simpler form is possible. This is the atomism of Democritus, which saw a renaissance of approval with the social atomism latent in Calvinism (curious, these clusters of beliefs under a single ideology, but moving on), even leading to the naming of the simplest form of the elements arranged by Mendeleev into a systematic chart as “atoms!” But no sooner had the atom of Democritus been apparently discovered than had we moved on to speculating, attempting, and actually splitting the atom, releasing vast stores of energy as the smaller particles (electrons, neutrons, and protons) which composed the atomic form decomposed; in turn, those simpler particles were themselves eventually smashed together at extreme speeds (i.e. outside previously observable scales of reference) which provoked them to decompose into even simpler forms. There is nothing in principle which precludes the possibility that there simply is no simplest form, and given sufficient power to exercise observation at suitably extreme conditions, one would continue to witness ever smaller unique forms, forms which, and this is my point, cannot be predicted by theories describing the activity of the forms which those simpler forms compose. In other words, forms exhibit irrationality.
And this not only in the physical sense. For sufficiently long periods of time, for sufficiently large masses, for sufficiently high-energy conditions, so on and so forth, wherever a new extreme is reached what laws proved themselves apt to describing and predicting the behavior of forms at that scale of reference shall be limited and useless for describing the activity of forms outside their particular scale of reference. Notice that in no sense is this an argument which depends upon going further down. Even our laws which portend to describe the activity of atomic and sub-atomic particles (and waves, strings, and things) cannot be suitably scaled up; our physicists fudge on proposing how our ability to describe very small things coheres with our ability to describe very large things. Apparently, the random activity of sub-atomic particles simply “averages out” when it comes to the apparent stillness and predictability of forms at the human scale, but even the stillness and predictability of forms at the human scale doesn’t appear to have any predictive power over the activity of things many magnitudes larger.
Our language is simply limited to what we are (personally, everyday lived experience) acquainted with. Keeping this in mind when we formulate descriptions of causal interactivity of large scale entities we in no way have a consummate or remotely complete acquaintance with (e.g. societies) is of crucial importance, and the failure to account for this seems the most frequent error of the Enlightenment. The presupposition that our reason is Reason, that we are able to model, simulate, and subsequently regulate anything we happen to give a name is intellectual hubris. Knowledge begins, and ends, with elaborating on the breadth of our ignorance about anything other than what we know, i.e. conclusions produced from reliable knowledge-forming processes, these always being a mechanism which operates from directly lived experience.